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Interviews

Steve Turre: Shell 'n' 'Bone Man

By Published: February 23, 2009

AAJ:What about someone like [pianist]Chucho Valdes

Chucho Valdes
Chucho Valdes
b.1941
piano
? Can he come and play in America or not?

ST: Nope, not since '04. He can go to Europe or Japan but he can't come to America.

AAJ: And that's for all Cuban musicians?

ST: Yep, unless they defected.

AAJ: One person who was all about bringing people together was Dizzy Gillespie

Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
. His United Nations Orchestra had a truly exceptional lineup, didn't it?

Steve TurreST: Yeah, what a thrill. Mario was there at the beginning—Mario Rivera, he was in that band; Dizzy knew who was who [laughs]. Paquito D'Rivera

Paquito D'Rivera
Paquito D'Rivera
b.1948
saxophone
was there too. I was there from the beginning, I think it was '89, and then it went up till Dizzy passed. After Dizzy passed, I think Paquito did a few gigs with it for a couple of years.

AAJ: There are a number of Dizzy Gillespie orchestras on the go at the moment. Are you involved in any of that?

ST: Absolutely not, because they don't have nothing to do with Dizzy really. They're just using his name, and it kind of upsets me. They call it the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni Orchestra and there's maybe two people in the whole big band who played with Dizzy.

I am very happy that Slide Hampton

Slide Hampton
Slide Hampton
b.1932
trombone
is being allowed to lead a band, but he is such a great writer and musician that they should just call it the Slide Hampton Orchestra. But they put a picture of Dizzy Gillespie on the marquee, and Dizzy is dead and gone. Dizzy wouldn't like that—I know Dizzy wouldn't like that—he wanted people to do their own thing.

AAJ: But don't you think that maybe they are helping keep the flame of Dizzy's music alive?

ST: Well, yes and no. They're not really playing his music all the time, and then they got Roberta Gambarini

singing with it, which don't have nothin' to do with Dizzy. It has nothin' to do with Dizzy or Dizzy's music. They are just using Dizzy's name to get gigs.



Now, if they were going to do a special tribute to Dizzy and they were going to play his original big band arrangements or some new arrangements of his music, you know? You might do that for a year or something and then give it a break, but they want to make it an ongoing gig.

Dizzy's name is gonna live forever. He was a genius, I mean, he was profound; I'm still in awe just thinking about him [laughs]. The stuff he used to play was incredible. I do think it's good to honor our elders and do projects from time to time, but they don't have an ongoing band of Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
1901 - 1971
trumpet
. They do have a Duke Ellington Orchestra and a [Count] Basie band, but the Basie band actually plays Basie's music and the Ellington band actually plays Ellington's music.

AAJ: And there are quite a few Mingus bands around as well, aren't there?

ST Well, that's a joke. They're playing his compositions so Sue [Mingus] can get the publishing [laughs]. They have three [Charles] Mingus big bands, you know. There's a lot of musicians in New York, so they got a band on tour in Europe and then they got a band playing in a club in New York, so photocopy the book and send another band to do a gig in California. It's just business. It's OK to honor Mingus—his music was great music, he was a great writer, but it's just business.



But hey man, that's OK, but there are a lot of musicians out there today that have their own music and their music is vital at the moment and they're not getting an opportunity. The powers that be—the record companies and the promoters are not trying to build careers anymore like they used to, unless it's image-related.



It's image that they want to make money off, and you know, it works for a little hot minute because they've trained the American people. To me, it's a false premise—the whole consumer-based philosophy of life. They want a throw-away society where it's about buy, buy, buy, but that doesn't lead to happiness, man; it's a false premise.

AAJ: You've worked with an unbelievable list of people, but one musician who you come back to again and again, and who plays on Rainbow People, is Mulgrew Miller. What do you like about Mulgrew's playing?

ST: Oh man, he's off the hook [laughs]. He's another musician that is so versatile. You know, he plays the modern modal thing, he can play the bebop and the Ellington sound—when I met him he had been working with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, playing in the piano chair when Mercer Ellington

Mercer Ellington
Mercer Ellington
1919 - 1996
trumpet
had the band. He can really play the gospel blues stuff—he's from Mississippi and he can do that authentically, because he came up playing in the church, and he played in R&B bands. You know, he played organ in the church. He's not just one-dimensional.



We've been playing together since we were in that band with Woody Shaw in the early '80s. I think Mulgrew came in to the band for three years. Oh man, he's very special. And such a nice person too.

Steve TurreAAJ: You like the gospel blues in your music?

ST: Oh yeah, it goes back to Ray Charles and to Rahsaan Roland Kirk too. See, that's a good feeling—it makes you feel better. To me, music is supposed to heal people. A musician is like a doctor man, it's not just about: "Oh that's interesting, good technique." It's gotta go deeper than that. It's about a feeling.



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